Chapter 12 A Bed of Roses

“My experience in Viet Nam had set me totally against the war. I was ready to become part of the movement. There were frequent demonstrations on campuses all over and the news from Seattle’s U of W reported almost daily unrest on that campus and in Seattle proper; yet WSC and Pullman were dead quiet, certainly compared to New York City and even the Jersey shore.

“To make it worse, I was assigned to the freshman floor of a dorm. That was required of all entering freshmen. I bought cases of beer and wine at the nearby grocery on Friday nights. Good thing I didn’t get caught. My wardrobe came from less expensive New York stores and what I had picked up from the custom tailors in Saigon but it was hopelessly out of fashion for one thing and too upscale for the Pacific Northwest in 1971 for another. Jeans, long hair, plaid wool-shirts and expensive climbing boots were the order of the day. I stopped getting the required weekly haircuts at the post barber shop and my hair got longer but as one of the girls said, it wasn’t shaped, it just looked like I stopped cutting it. A kindly professor suggested I visit the veterans center on campus. I did go but couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for it. I wanted as far away from the army and any identification with it as I could get.

“I met a girl in my forestry class who seemed to be interested. We dated and palled around for the spring semester when she graduated. Her fiancé came back from Alaska to the graduation ceremony. She introduced us. She hadn’t told me about him; neither had her roommate. Along with plaid shirts, anything funky was the fashion. Authenticity, you know. I bought a Honda motorcycle from the roommate’s boyfriend. He sold me the Honda to raise money to build a funky Harley chopper. He wanted funk and the fast, four-cylinder Honda was not funky. Neither was I. He was a graduate student in math and wrote pornographic novels to support himself. He would get editor’s notes back saying ‘Too much philosophy.’ I was amazed. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as pornographic novels.

“The culture shock was too much and besides I wanted to be part of the anti-war action. I, along with many other veterans, were either furious over the war or totally demoralized or some combination of the two. But I desperately wanted to be hip. In retrospect, I should have stayed in Pullman as there actually were some support for veterans but I applied for a transfer to Western Washington State Collage, a less academically respected but much hipper school.”

I sensed I was beginning to lose Agnes in my whining about college, culture shock and rejection. How much did she really want to know? So to cut to the chase I said, ”Ironically, after all that trouble to get into college, transferring schools, dealing with a fluid new culture and trying to fit in, it was money that was the roadblock. I lasted a little over two years, about six months longer than my unemployment insurance. Not to say there weren’t some good times, there were but I just couldn’t keep it up. Jobs were just as scarce in Bellingham as in Seattle and part-time work for students like me was nowhere to be found. So I quit school.”

“Ouch.” Said Agnes. “And there was no family help. That seems unconscionable. Parents want their children to do well. From what you told me your family wasn’t poor. Did they know you were broke? Did you ask for help?”

“Maybe I could have been more insistent but I was proud and my father had already said his piece. I wasn’t going to grovel. Plus, things had gone from bad to worse socially when I transferred and I was about done with the judgements and rejection. I would have had to admit an error in not staying at the conservative school that fit with my father’s values.”

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